|Publication Date||Sept 08, 2017|
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Remarkably, J.C. Bell’s English teacher managed to set his anger and humiliation aside. And through the ordeal, he somehow taught J.C. to respect reading and writing. After finishing the first two books of his required after school reading, that respect became love.
Hundreds of novels later, and that love continues to grow.
Some would even argue that, since Peter and Poon, J.C. Bell's writing has somewhat improved.
BY J.C. BELL
© 2015, J.C. Bell
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J.C. Bell on Smashwords
Copyright @ J.C. Bell, 2016
All rights reserved
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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
CODE HELICAL, PART I: SHEPARD
I remember dying . . . my enemies closing in around me . . .
The bastards manage to box me in and I know damn well what comes next – the end, a debt long overdue – and in a way I’m glad; no more running, no more hiding . . . and no more killing – eventually even life’s greatest joys lose their luster. I know I’m beaten, but even so, I give em hell, just for old time’s sake. Yeah, I make em fucking earn it – that’s for sure. It’s only after my clip run’s dry that I realize my body’s full of holes; far too many to plug. And there I stand dying, spouting blood like a god-damn fountain. That’s when I see it, the dark shroud, a familiar sight, but this time I’m on the other side.
I welcome it, for once in my life I don’t fight it – I let the shroud fall over me, and finally I know peace . . .
A debt long, long overdue.
But all good things come to an end . . .
Somehow I survived, but you can be sure as shit it ain’t no miracle. If any of this was up to God, he would have put me underground a long time ago.
I’m healed, not just the dozen or so new holes; the old scars, the radiation burns, even the cancer, they’re all gone – like none of it ever happened. I still have the memories, but without the proof, even I begin to wonder . . .
Was any of it real?
I take in my environment . . . I’m in a metal box no taller than I can stand, and barely long enough to lay down. Another prison – apparently some asshole deemed my debt not yet paid.
Whoever my captors are, they leave me to stew in my darkened cell. I wonder what the hell they could possibly want from me, and why they would let me live?
My door is outlined in a golden glow and then I know . . .
. . . much later, once more I awaken, back in my cell.
No, I’m changing.
What have they done to me?
I’ve been in many prisons in my days – some more akin to concentration camps — but this place is something else.
I begin to wonder if maybe I’m in hell.
Based on the life I’ve lived, it’s a very likely possibility.
CHAPTER I – LAMBS TO THE SLAUGHTER
I’m back, back in the box. Just me, the darkness and the hunger.
The hunger . . .
It’s much stronger than before, and as usual, with each passing second it grows. Raging against my prison is useless, but I do so anyway; my bloodied fists pounding against the thick metal walls, my head – a battering ram I use against my door.
Sure, there’s pain, but when weighed against the hunger I simply don’t give a fuck.
The hunger, it’s killing me. I’m dying . . . again. I feel it in every cell of my body, burning through my blood, my flesh.
I would even say my soul if I believed in such bullshit.
It always starts the same way; I feel like a god, like I could fight anything, tear the very world apart. But I’m trapped, a fucking lab rat made to run mazes, and my captors have made damn certain that God himself couldn’t possibly set me free. So I sit in my prison, passing the time by fruitlessly planning my escape – my mind, drifting in and out of sleep, filling with sweet dreams of beating my captors to death.
I’ve long since given up on any semblance of my own humanity. I’m a caged beast waiting to feast and nothing more – a starving and mangy animal. My hair is matted to my head, a mixture of filth; part blood, sweat and dirt. Normally I’m clean-shaven – not just my face; I keep my blade razor-sharp, taking great pride in cutting down the prickly bastards that keep popping up on my head. I haven’t had that luxury in quite some time, though; my hair has reached my shoulders, my beard is down to my chest. I would love nothing more than to remove the itchy mop from the top of my head; but I have to say, I’ve grown rather fond of the my beard – unfortunately, many bugs have as well, calling the mess of tight curls home after nesting in it during my many coma like sleeps.
For the most part, little changes in the utter dark of my cell; there’s a steady hum of machinery vibrating in the walls; rarely a click or bang interrupts the mechanical hum . . . but when it does, my senses sharpen at the sound, hoping they become more. But no sooner do I detect them than they are gone; and once more the hum fills my room, floods my ears and numbs my mind . . .
Sitting in my cramped and bloodied metal box, I wonder how long it has been. Not merely since my last feeding, but since I was last free.
My chuckles echo off the metal walls.
Was I ever free?
Like fucking fools, we called ourselves the Free Alliance, fought against the Nexus to salvage the last shred of human freedom before all aspects of humanity fell sway to an artificial mind.
We failed . . . badly.
And those who fought learned just how cruel an artificial mind could be — nearly as cruel as a human’s, nearly.
No, I learned the cruelty of mankind before then, the Great Crusade – the bloody genocide and rape of all that is human. I’ll be the first to admit my own sins in it. I did many bad things in the war — fucking awful things if I’m being totally honest. But no matter how bloody my uniform became, they continued to pin medals on it, and I always went back to it – the killing. I had my reasons at the time, my cause, and I believed with all my heart, and makebelieve soul, that everything I did was righteous – the will of God.
What a fucking asshole. Me, not God – because if there’s one thing I know for certain now, God didn’t have shit to do with that or any war that’s gone before.
Elden Simmons . . .
He was our god, the so-called Neo Messiah — the real asshole of it all. Little did we know at the time his miracles were all man-made – a mix of propaganda and special effects all choreographed by our very own government. They thought they could end all wars by establishing him as a prophet, creating the one ‘true’ religion and joining humanity under the banner of the True Lord.
In the end, Simmons was so mad with power the Puppet Prophet began to believe in his own greatness; actually thought he could control his own strings.
It ended badly for him — for us all.
But I digress . . .
That was another time, another war, another life . . .
My mind drifts. My memories stream before me in a blur.
What have I become?
I’m there again. I’m home. The war is over but there’s no escaping the sins of my past . . . my wife and child are torn to pieces before my eyes, my world turns to blood.
I’m a slave to the frenzy. I need it, the blood, to bath beneath it. My body is soiled by it . . . my soul cleansed . . .
I’m back in my metal box . . . with the memories it comes creeping back, sure as shit, an ache in my bones, a nagging thought at the back of my mind.
The hunger . . . Not fucking again!
I try to fight it, but it’s as useless as fighting against my cell. Then comes the realization — I’m a prisoner to them both.
Soon afterwards, it fills my body, becomes my sole thought.
Once again I try to escape, but no longer to set myself free, only to feed.
Blood obscures my vision as over and over again I throw myself against the door.
The door holds . . . my head does not. My eardrums vibrate as my skull cracks. The sensation reaches my brain as an echo, and in that echo my brain begins to die.
My world goes black, blacker even than the utter dark of my prison cell.
But even in the darkness of near death it’s there. I may very well be dead, but still it grows.
It won’t let me go – hell no! The hunger is not done with me yet.
I awaken . . . the steel floor icy-cold against my blood-slicked face.
Slowly, I get to my feet, my head still ringing and the darkness around me spinning like a maelstrom.
In my self-inflicted delirium I gain a moment of clarity . . . a moment free from the hunger. For now I’m whole, mind and body my own. Instead of single-minded starvation my memories come creeping back in . . .
It’s the old memory, the first memory . . .
I’m a boy, running free, the world is my playground, everyone I see a friend . . . the apocalypse a thought so distant it cannot possibly be real. Once more I see myself running — to her arms. She waves me away, begs me to stop.
Her white sun-dress flutters wildly about her . . .
Fire and thunder fill the sky.
My arm snaps as I land. Screaming, I struggle to rise; my face singed red, my clothes smoldering. Standing amidst the charred earth I see no sign of her, only a fiery crater where she once stood.
Then they begin to land around me . . . the bits and pieces . . . fragments of flesh that once formed a person, formed my mother. The blood-rain falls upon me, my world becomes red.
For the first time in my life I feel the frenzy, the rage.
The memory slips away, in its place I see the wars . . . the killing . . . the blood . . . oceans of it.
Blood . . .
With the thought of it, once more the hunger emerges.
Before it takes me again I wonder, have I always craved it? Have they merely given that craving a purpose, empowering me with it?
The thought fades — everything fades in the face of the hunger.
In desperation I continue to beat against my door.
Then, like a miracle – the very gateway of heaven — my door is outlined in a golden glow.
It’s time . . .
I can’t contain my excitement, like a beast I howl.
The door grinds open . . . stops, jammed halfway into the floor.
I can’t wait for it to continue, I tear it down with my bare hands, bending the three-inch metal enough to let me pass.
Only a vague part of my mind still functions rationally; just enough that I notice the door is bent from where my head rammed it, and that the walls of my prison are littered with fistshaped dents.
I’m growing stronger, I realize. Evolving.
Still howling, I head out to feed, so consumed by the hunger I don’t even bother to ask myself what I’m evolving into . . .
Chapter II – DINNER IS SERVED
Through the cold, dark hallways I run . . .
Or am I flying? So rarely, it seems, my feet touch the floor, and when they do, I’m propelled through the tunnels like a bullet through the barrel of a gun.
I take a backseat, sink into my mind — a passenger in my own body. I let go, allowing my instincts and the hunger to guide me. I’m in the game again; in my captors’ labyrinth of pain and torture.
Should I survive it, a feast of blood awaits me – greater power, greater hunger.
I speed around a corner, changing direction instantaneously as I continue down the long hallway. I pause only briefly to sniff the air, to catch that sweet scent of blood — my only guide through the twisting and turning death-maze. I follow it onward, taking more turns than my mind could possibly keep track of – luckily it doesn’t have to. I trust in my senses to deliver me to my goal.
As I round the next corner I freeze . . . I stand there, my chest heaving, partly from my excitement and partly from exhaustion. Before me is a narrow hallway of smooth steel walls; similar to every other wall in the damn place. Yet somehow I know this one is different. I breathe it in before I enter; without a doubt, it’s the right direction, but still, something is wrong as hell, I can sense it . . . nothing that I can see or smell, just something that I know . . . I know it’s a trap.
Danger awaits if I continue on, I’m sure of it. My mind – what’s left of it — returns to the mix. I have a decision to make; I could turn around, find another way to reach my goal, or forge ahead and keep trusting to my enhanced abilities to plow me through whatever danger awaits.
Deeply I inhale, hoping to catch a whiff of whatever set my senses on edge. Drool spills down my chin as the distant scent of blood fills my lungs. The rhythmic thump of a beating heart also catches my ears – no music ever sounded so lovely.
Fuck it. I’m starving . . .
Against my better judgment I bolt down the hallway.
I inwardly curse the moment I hear the gears clicking into motion.
Halfway down the hallway I must have triggered it, with a screech of grinding metal the walls begin closing in on me.
I run faster, pushing my body to the limits, using both my hands and feet to hurtle me forward. Even so, it’s clear to me it won’t be enough, and that the only way I’m gonna make it out is as a squirt of blood and guts at the end of the hallway. With only five-feet left to freedom the walls begin to crush me. I suck in my breath, stretch my body. Using every muscle I have, I manage to shimmy my way forward. I maybe gained another foot before the walls have me totally pinned.
My bones crack as the pressure mounts. My ribcage shatters then pierces my lungs. I begin coughing up blood. I laugh at the irony of it; finally have the taste of blood on my tongue, but sadly it’s my own. Luckily I’m a hard-headed son-of-a-bitch, for my skull is the only thing holding back the walls. Like shattering glass, I can hear my head being crushed; my vision fills with flashing lights.
Maybe it’s the hunger, or maybe it’s my own damned stubbornness, but I refuse to give up. I’ve been through too damn much in my life to die a fucking pancake. Something deep within me grows. Fueled by the frenzy, my infected blood boils. I’ve always been strong, a solid six-feet of hard-earned muscle, and stronger still after they infected me. But this shit is something else . . . my blood boils over and with a roar, I push against the wall. My bones and sinews snap under the tremendous pressure as I fight to keep from being crushed, but as fast as they are broken, they’re healed. I manage to hold the walls in place. I dip deeper into whatever well was giving me this power and with a final rage-filled shout I push them back. With my arms fully extended, I dive forward . . . the metal walls slam shut behind me.
Exhausted, I sink to my knees.
I’m fucking starving . . .
And I have the worst headache of my life. I try to shake the flashing stars from my eyes, but before I can catch my breath, that sense of danger returns . . . this time too late. I pitch my weight to the side, but not fast enough. A powerful blow lands on my shoulder, throwing me against the bent metal wall that nearly crushed me. My right arm hangs useless at my side, but at least I’m on my feet, and distanced from my attacker. I try to move my arm but only feel an explosion of pain in my shoulder.
Already knowing what I’ll find, I look up to face my attacker — the pinpricks of light still twinkling in my field of vision.
I’m somewhat relieved to see there’s only two of them; hulking metal giants roughly eight-feet tall – mechs. Humanoid in shape; a head, torso, pair of arms and legs. But that’s where the similarities end; they look like demonic medieval knights; their eyes burning, red embers, their bodies creaking and hissing pieces of metal. I can tell by their hydraulic joints and plated, rolled steel armor that they’re old tech; 3rd gen at best, possibly modified 2nd. Instead of the modern, stronger, light-weight, titanium-plastic limbs, their bodies were bulky pieces of steel joined with rivets and bolts.
I remember the first time I saw their type, back in the Great Crusade, when the New Order sent them to the front to ‘save human lives’ – at least the lives of their followers. For us, those who actually fought at the front, the real reason they were sent was obvious. The New Order had exhausted all of its human soldiers. The real warriors were all gone; the front lines manned by children – of which I was one. The New Order was losing the war, so in desperation they created a new weapon – an army of killing machines.
Little good it did them. They were a failure for the most part; the early models all lacked an AI processor, which left them prone to abundant operator errors as well as vulnerable to enemy hackers. Their combat specs were nothing to brag about either; slow speed, weak armor and sparse firepower. Their greatest asset was their strength, but the damn things were so slow they rarely ever reached their enemy, and most humans weren’t stupid enough to take them on hand-to-hand anyways.
Well . . . most humans.
Hell, when your back’s against the wall and your clips empty, you do what you have to . .
Even when I was just a man, the early mechs didn’t scare me all that much. They abounded with weaknesses and were controlled by human operators. I survived them then.
With one good arm and a splitting headache I didn’t think I would have much of a problem turning these two fuckers into scrap metal.
I launch forward, my fist leading the way. I should have slammed into one of the things chest, instead, I end up caving in the metal wall behind him. The mech sidestepped my attack — too easily.
Damn, modified mother-fu . . .
They’re far fast than I expected. Before I can reposition my body, the other mech comes at me. Whirling and clicking, his arm transforms into some ungodly multi-bladed sword. The sword descends . . . now I’m the one dodging. I’m just fast enough; a trail of sparks ignites at my back as his blades scrape along the wall.
I roll away — my old combat training and new-found killing instincts acting as one to help keep my ass alive.
I get to my feet — a heavy scent of blood fills the air, sending shivers of excitement down my spine.
I’m so close now. The only thing standing in my way is the pair of mindless giants.
Enough of this shit.
I flex the fingers in my damaged arm; they’re numb, but functional. My headache is gone, and with it the flashing lights in my eyes. Something else fills my vision – an all too familiar sight, the blood-rage, the frenzy.
It fills me to the core . . .
The mech with the sword-arm renews his attack, coming at me straight ahead. Meanwhile his buddy is trying to flank me from the left; his hands pounding the air like a jackhammer. The bladed hand comes at me . . . I’m faster now . . . stronger. I catch it with my good hand, maneuvering my body to the right. The blades slice deeply into my hand as I take hold. Despite the pain, I clench down, using his momentum to bury the tip of the blades into the wall. My other arm swings downward, severing the mech’s metal joints at its elbow. A swift kick to its torso sends the thing flying backward. The other one is coming quick, still pounding away. I regard him as if he is in slow-motion. Patiently, I await his arrival, knowing his operator will foolishly position him just right . . . a split second before those massive fist start pummeling me to pulp, I rip the sword arm free from the wall, arcing it across the thing’s neck. Sparks and spurting hydraulic fluid fill the air as I nearly sever his head. Attached by only a handful of electric cords, it dangles from his shoulders, its red eyes flickering in and out of existence. With its optic sensors disabled, its arms flail through the air in a desperate attempt to find me. His fists still pound the empty air as I bury the blades in his chest.
It suffers a spasm of quick twitching then freezes into a headless metal statue.
One down . . .
I turn, his friend is back on his feet and preparing an attack. His remaining arm surges bright-white in preparation for what can only be a nasty energy discharge. I’m on him in an instant — the same instant he expels his weapon, but I have his arm twisted, aiming it back towards his body. He fires the weapon anyway . . .
The explosion sends me reeling. Metal shards scatter through the hallway, many piercing my flesh — one even lodging deeply into my skull.
I dent the wall as I crash against it.
Falling to my knees, coughing up blood, I realize my fucking ribs are broken again.
But I’m not worried, like before they’ll get better . . . much better after I feed.
I stand up, plucking the metal shrapnel from my head. Those sticking from my body I leave; already my skin is rejecting them, forcing them out as the wounds fuse shut.
I can only pray that is the last of them, the obstacles to my goal. But I know the cruelty of my captors, just like I know that there’s no one listening to my fucking prayers. The only certainty I have in this life is that my suffering will never end . . .
I limp the rest of the way, occasionally sniffing the air as I trudge on.
My path ends at a metal door. There’s several flashing control pads on the wall beside it, but I ignore them. I’m in no mood to figure out how to open the fucking thing, so I start pounding away at the door with my fists instead. Sure enough, it didn’t take long before my bloody knuckles cave it in; a final kick blows it off the hinges.
Stepping over the warped metal slab, I deeply inhale . . . his heart, like a drum, beats louder, faster . . .
It’s about damn time . . .
I smile at him as he cowers in the corner.
I can tell he’s a man not used to being afraid; he’s a bully, a street-fighting thug, a man who built himself with one goal – to make others fear him. Scars litter his body, a particularly nasty gash has disfigured his face from his cheek to his chin. Judging by his build, he’s a juicer, an addict to street-level bio-enhancers. His arms are thick as most men’s legs – impossibly so, while his legs are like corded tree-trunks. Also, the man has no neck, it’s as if his body is connected to his head by a pair of bulging trapezius muscles.
Not that he needed to, but the man was making things easy for me. I wouldn’t be shedding a tear with his loss – nor, I’m guessing, would anyone else. In a way he’s like me; unnaturally enhanced. Exercise alone could ever make a man look like that. I should know; the rigors of my life would have sent most men to their knees, begging for an end. This thug took the easy way, shooting crap into his arm to look like some freak of nature. I almost wished I didn’t have my power, so I could show him what real strength was like.
Salivating, I walk to him, the fact that he’s an asshole making the moment all the sweeter.
Oh shit . . .
My eagerness turns to dread; as I draw closer, I notice a glowing cylindrical tube in his hand, half-hidden beneath his black coat.
They gave him a damn pulse gun?
Back in the day, I only had my fists and I survived – sort of. I even managed to kill my maker. Apparently our captors had decided to change the rules, either that, or they simply wanted me dead.
The room explodes with light as streaks of energy crackle towards me.
Blasts of energy continue arcing in my direction, most I dodge . . . those that I don’t, I ignore.
There’s no stopping me now . . . I’ve been crushed, cut and broken . . . a few more holes in me won’t keep me from my feast.
His weapon clatters to the floor as I crush his wrist.
“What the hell are you?” the pumped up thug manages to ask before he begins squealing like a girl.
The harder I squeeze, the louder he shrieks. He thrashes about, flailing around as if in the fits of a seizure. I continue to squeeze, so hard his wrist turns to mush. In his desperate thrashings he forgets his own strength; as he pulls away he rips off his own hand. With blood spurting from the severed limb, he falls unconscious to the floor.
“Damned if I know . . .” I whisper back.
The poor bastard . . . I think as I watch his life drain away. He never had a chance against me – his muscles sure as hell didn’t matter, nor did his pulse-gun. I suppose he managed to get a couple rounds off before I got to him, but the man had shit for aim. He should have went with a wider spread, leaving me less room to maneuver and then cut me in half when I tried to get around it – it’s what I would have done. Even the blasts that hit me did little damage; already the hole in my shoulder was fusing shut, the chunk of flesh burnt from my thigh replaced with healthy pink skin.
I have to wonder, what if he did manage to hit me directly on my forehead, would it have even mattered?
Could I even be killed?
It was a question I’d have to answer some other time, right now . . . my precious reward is pooling at my feet.
I suck him dry.
Ahh . . .
Savagely, I tear into the arterial vein throbbing on his neck. His life-blood explodes into my mouth and down my throat.
That’s it, that’s the shit I’ve been waiting for; the rush of power through my veins, the salty tang on my tongue, his heart pounding in his chest.
His heartbeat grows dim . . . then ceases altogether.
As his heartbeat fades, so too does the hunger.
There’s something seriously wrong with me, I think as I’m sucking the last drops of lifeblood out of this person’s neck – several things wrong with me, actually. But what worries me most is that I no longer want to fight the hunger, hell, I fucking love it. I can’t remember the last time I felt so good, so powerful. It doesn’t even bother me that I’m killing this poor bastard who never did a thing to me.
Sure, he tried to kill me, but what the hell else was he supposed to do? And maybe he did look like a thug piece of shit, but for all I know he’s the nicest guy on Earth.
With that possibility in mind, I grant him a favor . . .
As if pulling apart taffy, I pluck his head from his lifeless body then fling the bloodless organ against the wall. It explodes like a rotten cantaloupe, spraying skull fragments and brains all over the wall.
I know what they wanted of me . . . mercy, to let the poor bastard live. It’s how I came to be this way – mercy. I entered the labyrinth and was bitten. It didn’t matter that I managed to kill my maker; the damage was done, the infection a permanent one.
With my hunger momentarily satiated, my awareness returns. I survey the scene of carnage I wrought.
What a fucking mess.
Brains cover the wall, blood covers my face.
I wipe the blood dripping from my lips and chin.
I’m standing there, looking at the brains splayed over the walls, and again I think . . .
Something’s definitely wrong with me.
I’m shaking my head at the madness of it all – the madness of what I’ve become – when it hits me . . . square in the back of my head. Something snaps, loudly, but it’s not my neck, a broken shard of wood flies through my peripheral vision.
There’s a dull pain at the base of my skull . . . but that’s it.
Slowly, I turn to face my new attacker, knowing whoever the fuck it is, they don’t stand a chance.
In shock, I turn to find the loveliest mocha-skinned goddess standing behind me; the handle of a broken staff of hardwood trembling in her hands. I’m taken aback by the beauty in tight black-leather pants; her shirt ripped so severely it’s nearly falling from her shoulders.
I smile down at her, forgetting how horrendous I must look; fresh blood still dripping from my tangled beard. I also forget that I just decapitated a man who was most likely her boyfriend.
She’s so hot she must have scrambled my brain – beautiful women always had that sort of power around me. In the old days, I would have done some bad things to that body. Lucky for her, those urges died when I did. Even luckier, my blood-hunger was somewhat under control, otherwise the things I would have done to her now would be far worse.
“Honey,” I calmly say, walking over to her. “If I was you, I’d turn that tight ass around and get as far away from me as possible.”
The bitch wasn’t listening, she just stood there; wooden shaft tightly clenched in her hands. As I drew closer I realized why, and that yet again, I fucked up. It wasn’t fear that filled those hickory orbs – it was the hunger. That’s how she was able to sneak up on me . . . I was so fixated on human blood that I didn’t even bother to search for anything else.
“He was mine,” she growled, her lithe body trembling, trembling with rage.
I was trying to think of something clever to say, like “First come, first serve”, or “Early bird gets the worm”. But before I could produce a quick-witted reply, the sharp end of her wooden stake plunges into my chest, meanwhile she’s still screaming, “He was mine!”
She knocks me to the ground, her hunger fueled strength catching me off guard.
Any other time I would have welcomed my position — her legs around my waist, my back to the floor – but the fact that she repeatedly plunged the stake into my body left me far from aroused.
“Sorry, babe,” I reply. Not because I stole her snack. But because, as hot as she was, she was a rabid beast, and I had to put her down.
I was going to save it, use its titanium core to help me escape, but instead I take the glowing cylinder I stole from the thug and point it to her waist. I pull the trigger, over and over again. Her smooth, mocha skin erupts into charred, bloody bits. I cut her clean in half. I flop her dying torso to the side, then watch as the life fade from those beautiful brown orbs.
But I have to make certain.
Mercy . . .
I sure as hell didn’t deserve it, but maybe she did.
I’m losing blood, lots of it. I’m pretty sure my heart has already stopped beating. As the shroud of death comes over me again, I continue to pull the trigger. Even after the darkness fully descends, and the weapon is drained, my finger refuses to let go . . .
Chapter III – DOCTOR’S ORDERS
I wake up — not the least bit surprised to be alive, despite suffering multiple, fatal stab wounds. Nor am I surprised that I still feel the hunger — clawing its way free from some deep, dark pit in my soul. The satisfaction from my recent feeding is long gone — I’m guessing due to the massive amount of blood I just lost.
I’m hungry as hell and immortal — nothing new there.
I am, however, rather shocked to realize I’m no longer in my cell. It’s still a prison, but a hell of a lot better than the foul metal box I’ve grown accustomed to. At least this room has interior lighting — though I wouldn’t say it’s well-lit. Glowing conduit runs around the room’s perimeter eliminating any shadows, but the sterile white light is itself only barely enough to see by. In the dull glow, the very room seems draped in a shadowy gloom.
Black lines criss-cross the floor, dissecting it into squares. Standing in the middle of them, I get the sense of standing on a gameboard; a chess piece to be moved around to fight another man’s battle. Three of the walls are solid, fused metal while the wall opposite me is a reflective pane of glass.
I stare into it, past my own haggard reflection to what I sense lies beyond.
I hear the faint, rapid flutter of a pair of hearts . . . and something else . . . a similar, steady beat, but colder — a precise, unchanging rhythm.
What the hell are you? I wonder, at first thinking the being must be a mech, but I can smell its blood; a sour, salty scent. The being is organic — yet I hesitate to call it human. It’s something else . . . perhaps something like me . . . or perhaps something worse . . .
As I gaze into the mirror hoping to catch a glimpse of those beyond, I can’t ignore my own appearance.
I look like shit.
My naked body is caked in blood; my hair similarly encrusted and wild, unkempt. I thought I liked the beard, but now that I can actually see it, I realize I look like some deranged, cannibal caveman.
Maybe if I just trimmed it a bit . . .
As if reading my mind, someone beyond the mirror echoes my thoughts.
“By the True God, he looks dreadful,” a female voice cries — not at all the response I’m used to from a woman. Normally my well-toned physique, and strong features leaves the ladies weak in their knees.
“Agreed, Darla,” a stern, male voice says in contempt. “He will gain far too much unwanted attention looking like this. Clean him up,” the man commanded; his clean-cut accent clearly marking him as an educated, high-born man.
I’ve yet to hear from the mystery guest — whatever he is — other than his heart, still ticking away like an atomic clock.
“Yes, sir,” Darla replies; by her eagerness to please, I can tell she’s the man’s young underling — most likely his lover as well.
Finally, a fucking bath.
I can only pray they also cut my hair . . . a massage from Darla would probably be asking for too much.
As the thought crosses my mind several small holes in the walls begin hissing like vipers, followed by a flood of green mist that quickly fills the room. My lungs fill with fire. As my skin begins to blister, I bolt to the wall of glass, knowing full well what I would find behind it — my captors. As I’m melting alive, I hit it with everything I’ve got it, pounding against the glass with my fists, feet and head.
“Are you sure it will hold, sir?” Darla questions from beyond the glass, her voice tense with fear, her heart pounding faster.
“The reinforcements I have added make the wall impenetrable. Even he cannot break through this time.”
The bastard was right, the pane shook like hell but it held. I fall against it, my flesh sloughing from my bones, my throat and lungs melting inside me. Suffocating on the burning air, I am forced to give up. I collapse to the floor, coughing up my melted innards.
“Sir, are you sure he is the one?” Darla asks, more disappointed in me than ever. Perhaps she was hoping I punched my way through the glass; squeezed the life from her as I wrap my hands around her neck — what can I say, some women like it rough like that.
“Are u afraid he’s too damaged?” the man asks as if puzzled by the question.
The gas diminishes, but not the pain.
“No, that is thelast of my worries with this one. I fear who he is, what he has done,” she continues.
Sister, you don’t know the half of it . . .
“Oh. Yes, I see,” the man replies. “Of course, Darla. I know exactly who this man is, and that is why I’m sure he will succeed. Sure, some would claim he’s a madman, a murderer . . . a butcher. But I know what he truly is . . . a predator, a killer; the greatest of our time if not all of human history. The man he was, will forever be remembered as Reverend Commander Shepard, the Butcher of the New Order. But we both know his dark deeds have only just begun . . .”
I hear the man’s heart flutter, his feet shifting nervously beyond the glass.
“Besides,” he continues, his voice tinged with sadness. “He took out his only competition — hopefully not permanently.” “Shepard . . .” I manage to croak.
“Ahh, he speaks. The recovery rate is impressive . . . as I expected. Speak up, Reverend. We have so much to discuss.”
“It’s Shepard, just fucking Shepard . . . And if you knew anything about me,” I growl, rising to my feet, my flesh a steaming layer of breaking blisters. “You’d know I’m done with the fucking New Order.”
I see myself in the mirror; my skin is a solid scar. At least my mat of hair is gone, and the beard . . . well, I could always grow it back.
As I watch, my skin heals, growing pink and soft as a newborn’s bottom.
It’s the old me looking back now; sleek, sinewy muscles; strong, bronze features like the bust of some ancient pharaoh; my eyes as dark as a well-aged whisky — something strong enough to keep even the worst nightmares at bay.
“That’s a hell of a hair-cut you gave me,” I chide. “Just so you know, I may be done with the Order, but not the killing,” I finish, staring hard into the mirror.
I’m still waiting to hear from the stranger . . . If he so much as stirred, I would have heard it. The whole time I was being chemically burned alive he was still as a fucking statue.
“No,” the man in charge says. “I expect you are not. Well then, I suppose there is no point in hiding . . . and time that we finally met.”
With that, the glass shimmers then becomes transparent.
I see him first, ‘sir’. He’s standing directly in front of me, closest to the glass, wearing a stark-white lab coat; grey, short-clipped hair. Three parallel scars run down the right side of his face, perhaps given to him from one of his past prisoners.
“How are you feeling, Reverend Shepard?” he asks, leaning into me.
Peeking out from behind him I find Darla; a young, freckle-faced redhead. Her hair is tucked back in a curly bun; med-grade VR glasses shade her bright blue eyes. Her neck is bruised with what looks like hand prints — I was right, the bitch did like it rough.
And kicking back in the corner . . .
Ahh . . . there you are.
A tall, slender figure is leaning against the wall. He had to be well over six-feet tall; immaculately dressed in a bright-white suit; blood-red tie, buttons and cufflinks. A widebrimmed, white hat dipped low, hiding his face.
“Well, other than your fucking acid shower,” I reply, my gaze still focused on the whitedressed man — somehow I know he’s the only one in the room I really need worry about. “I’m hungry . . . Maybe you come in here and help me out with that.”
“Alas, even if I should I entertain the notion, I would be of little value to you.”
With his words, it occurred to me; yes, I could smell them, and yes, I am hungry as hell, but still, their scent didn’t excite me in the least.
I’m done being this guy’s science experiment.
I fly at the wall, pounding harder than before, screaming, “What the hell have you done to me?”
Despite his ‘reinforcements’, the man steps back from the glass, fear fills his eyes.
Cracks begin to form . . .
“Should I purge the room, Dr. Gregois?” The girl asks, her hand nervously hovering over a large red button.
“No,” he manages to calmly order. “Not yet . . . .”
There’s no hiding the fear of his beating heart, but he defies it and once more approaches the glass.
“Our deaths will gain you nothing, Reverend. Even if you manage to destroy us, your hunger will not end and eventually you will be driven mad by it. You truly will become the Butcher, slaughtering all you see for no logical rhyme or reason.”
I pretend to stop pounding because I want to hear what he says, but really I’m growing weary of trying to shatter the wall. I gave it my best, but I have to say, Doc did do a damn fine job of strengthening it — not that I’ll never admit that to him.
“You’ve successfully navigated the gauntlet thirty-seven times, an uncontested record. And with each success you’ve grown. But the gauntlet is more than training, more than a test. What we wanted from you . . . what we needed more than anything is for you to suffer . . . for that is when you truly grow. You see, Reverend, you have been given a special gift. Among the billion human lives left on this planet we chose you . . . A hard man to find, harder to acquire. When we heard the Nexus had fulfilled your execution we made the best of what was left-over. Your brain, we reanimated, the virus took care of the rest.”
I was dead . . . I knew that sweet peace was more than just a dream. And this fucker stole that from me . . .
“You should have known better . . . you should have left me dead.”
“And left your life’s work undone? What you’ve fought for all those years? Humanity is at the brink. Only the True Lord knows what the Nexus has in store for us next. I, for one, do not wish to wait and find out . . . wait for the True Lord to swoop down and save his creation from extinction.”
“Huh . . . I got news for you, Doc. You’re damn sure not the first one to try to stop the Nexus. Even if your fucking True Lord was real, he wouldn’t stand a chance against the mechs now.”
“Yes, you’re right, Shepard,” he flatly stated. “The True Lord cannot save us, but in his divine wisdom, he has given us the ability to save ourselves. Nor can I succeed in this alone. Humanity needs soldiers, those who not only can stand against the mechs, but obliterate them. Indeed, the computer mind is a marvelous creation . . . but the human genome is a miracle.
Infinite potential hidden within our very cells. Say what you will; that I’ve infected you, that I’ve transformed you into a monster. In reality, I have used the smallest of the True Lord’s creations to enhance what was already within you . . . to unleash your true potential . . . unleash it utterly. But alas, that’s not all. Yes, the virus reconfigures your very genetic code, but the true beauty of my creation is that it is ever evolving, adapting instantaneously to whatever assails it.” That explained a lot.
Survival of the fittest on hyper-crack . . .
“You’ve not only met every challenge we’ve sent your way, but you’ve surpassed them, growing stronger with every victory.”
Hmm . . . if what he’s saying is true . . .
“There is no limit to what you can accomplish,” he finished.
“Well, Doc . . .” I coldly reply. “If that’s so, then you’re fucked . . .”
I launch at the wall again, this time remembering all my trials: the crushing wall, the mechs . . . the many, many traps the set against me. How many times was I near defeat? My body was burnt, broken and bloodied, but it always healed — and afterwards, I was stronger than before. How many times was I on the verge of death, only to find that same inner strength to carry me back to my feet?
The man claimed his wall was unbreakable . . . It was time to put that, and my power, to the test.
“Sir?” Darla pleads.
The man steps back, crying, “Wait!” The command meant for Darla as much as it was for me.
“Dr. Gregois,” Darla continues, more urgently than before.
Meanwhile, the man in the white suit is still cool as a cube of ice in the corner. I may be mistaken, but I thought I even saw a smirk from beneath his wide-brim hat.
“You will gain nothing with our deaths, Reverend. In fact, you will lose it all — the vengeance you crave . . . your freedom . . . your very life. You still don’t understand . . . what you are now . . .”
“WHAT AM I?” I rage as my fists pound cracks into the glass.
“A weapon . . . I have made you a weapon. You were an assassin for the New Order and now you will be mine . . . It doesn’t matter where you go, what you do, you will always be mine . . . you will hunt down the one I chose until you are driven mad by his scent, until you die, and still you will arise, and still you will hunt . . . only after you drink the last drop of his blood will you be free of my command. And then when you are starving . . . powerless, I will find you and imprint you with your next victim.”
I could sense the truth of it . . . my hunger was now single-minded. There was only one unique strain of blood that could satisfy it. Maybe this Gregois bastard was right, but for now, it wasn’t about feeding . . .
“First . . . you die!”
“Darla . . !” Gregois stammers.
The wall breaks. Shards of glass implode into the room.
I am about to launch into the room to begin my killing spree when I pause . . .
He’s looking straight at me . . . and I recognize that face. I know the man in the suit, I’ve seen those dead, white pupils before . . . Seen the shroud of death fall over those pure white eyes.
Elden Simmons . . .
“I killed you.”
I clearly remember my hands around his neck — long after his heart and lungs stopping working . . . I’m pretty damn sure I even broke that neck.
Finally, he speaks.
“You always were a fool, Commander . . .” Shepard!
“You of all people should know, you cannot kill a god.”
“Damnnit, Darla, NOW!”
Elden strides forward, smirking.
The floor beneath me falls open, instead of flying forward I’m sucked downward. My hand reaches out — inches from Elden’s face, before the vacuum pulls me through the hole. He’s still standing there, smirking, somehow immune to the sucking force dragging everything in the room through the floor. Darla clings desperately to her control console while that fucker, Gregois is hiding beneath her desk.
Me . . . I’m falling.
The white clouds turn grey and I know I’m fucked. All this time I’ve been above the veil, in some low-orbit station.
“You cannot kill a god.”
I have plenty of time to contemplate Elden’s words as I plummet through the air. His words make me wonder what I was, a god or a demon.
As I hurl to the ground I can only hope I’m the former . . .
Chapter IV – the fall
I’m plastered to the ground. A thick, gelatinous fluid covers my body, suctioning me to the cracked asphalt street.
There’s a wet, slurping sound as I push myself up. I make it to my feet, naked as the day I kicked my way free of my mother’s womb. The viscous substance oozes down my flesh. I pull a strand of it off my arm, then, sneering, I fling it to the ground.
The stuff reeks like rancid meat and looks like a mix of coagulated blood and vaguely recognizable human organs, like the afterbirth from a c-section gone horribly wrong. And not only am I covered in it, but I’m standing in a crater filled with the shit.
What the fuck just happened?
There’s a fog in my brain so thick I can barely recall my own name — Reverend Com . . .
No, goddammit, I fume, shutting my eyes to I try to see through the fog.
It’s Shepard. You’re just Shepard now.
I hurt all over. It’s not that my muscles are sore, or bones broken. It’s something deeper . . . something I feel in every pore, every cell of my body. As if I’m missing something . . . a longing my fog-addled mind can’t comprehend but my body remembers all too well — and aches for it.
Without warning the memories come back in a flood, the early memories first — a torrent of such sadness, and loss I fall back to my knees, back into the bloody muck. The memories mount, as does the horror of who I am and what I’ve become.
What have I become?
My most current metamorphosis is still hidden from me, but instead of lurking behind the fog it’s now draped in a bloody sheet.
Then, much slower, the sheet descends, revealing the gory memories beneath. They come crashing through my mind . . . like the fall.
Yes, I remember the fall . . .
. . . entering the cloud of smog that is the veil — the fog of war, the never-ending night that was born in the ashes of the apocalypse. By the time I’m through the veil I’m only able to catch a glimmer of the dim city lights as they rush towards me and then . . . SPLAT! My body hits the street, exploding like an over inflated colostomy bag.
With that image in mind I reexamine the mess of shit I’m kneeling in, and come to the realization that it used to be me. I’ve been reborn from a pile of my own blood and guts.
Huh, I guess I’m a god after all.
I remember my cell, the steel box from hell, and the people who put me there; Dr Gregois and Darla, his mousy — but not unfuckable — assistant. I also remember what he has done to me. “I have made you a weapon,” he had said. But I am more than just a weapon, and he damn well knew it. He made me indestructible, immortal, the height of human evolution.
He had made me a god.
So now I’m certain of it . . . I’ve cursed God’s name on more than one occasion, but in all honesty, even at my vilest I always held out hope, hope that there was some sort of meaning to it all, some sort of order. I knew I would never have the faith to see it, but just to imagine it existed had been comfort enough. But now I know, there’s no way the True Lord can be real. Fuck no. Any being capable of creating life would never allow one such as me to have this power, to waste his miracle of evolution on a sick, murderous, son-of-a-bitch like me.
Or Elden . . .
I see that face again, that soulless, white-eyed bastard laughing at me as I fall to what should be my death.
I may be a god, but I sure as hell ain’t the only one.
No, this ain’t no monotheistic religion. It appeared Doc, fucking Gregois was cooking up an entire pantheon of us.
So what god was I . . ?
He said I was his now . . . his assassin.
Maybe that makes me the god of death.
Believe it or not, I’ve been called worse.
Hell, I have to admit the title suits me.
I take a measure of my body, other than the layer of bloody mucus I’m perfect, unscathed after what had to have been at least a fifty-mile free-fall. Even though I may not have a scratch on me, the pain is everywhere.
I realize now it’s the hunger, and it’s stronger than it’s ever been.
I breathe in the polluted air. Amidst the scent of carbon gas and burnt plastic I smell my prey. So distant there’s only the slightest trace, but even that faint smell makes my mouth water, my heart pound in my chest.
I know there’s only one way to stop the hunger now, to stop the pain. I need to find him, my prey, before it gets worse . . . before the beast becomes me, and I lay waste to all who cross my path.
What’s one more innocent death on my conscious? I’ll do this one deed for him, for
Gregois, but only because I’m going to need all my strength, all my faculties intact when I come back for him. And once I find Gregois, if the bastard won’t give me the peace of death I’m due, I’ll use the gifts he gave me to send him and all his helpers on their way to hell.
To make it so, I have to beat him at his own game, play by the rules he defined. But I’ll be damned if the game ain’t rigged.
“You will always be mine . . .”
I couldn’t deny the truth of Gregois’ words . . . there was cost for my power, for my miraculous resurrection. Ironically, the more my body is restored, the more my identity and my sanity slip away. Whatever strength I have to resist the hunger is quickly fading. I’m returning to that beastly state — right where Gregois wants me; a wild animal on the hunt; the hunger his leash, choking me as it constricts around my neck.
“Move your ass!” I bark at myself, using my rage to control my body, to will it into motion.
For now it obeys. I get back to my feet, doing my best to bury the pain and the cravings, and focus in on my surroundings.
I recognize this place, though it’s nothing like I remember.
The last time I was here, there were so many flashing lights and monitors that I nearly had a seizure just entering the bustling streets. Back then, the entire exteriors of the buildings were faced with gigantic screens, all displaying ads of the latest tech and fashion crazes. There used to be so much light beaming from the walls the streets themselves glowed, like the moon, basking in the sun’s reflection.
And then there was the crowds, a throng of people so thick, battling my way through them was as difficult as any fight I suffered in the war. The area had been a booming shopping district; a hip, high-end local for Japan’s up and coming elite – then they abandoned it for beyond the veil.
Now it’s a dark and desolate street. Some of the signs remain, blank and cracked lazlight screens, but few of them function. The images they show are glitchy; eerie ghostlike figures floating across the surface.
Exactly how long was I dead? I wonder. Or perhaps the mechs were moving quicker than I ever anticipated, hunting the very humans who gave them life.
Little light remains to illuminate the streets; half-lit, electronic banners hang from the buildings, their glowing words written in the elegant, symbolic script so clearly Japanese. I’m familiar with most of the product and company names they display, and though Japanese is not my primary language, like most of the world I’m proficient enough to get by — especially when it comes to profanity.
At least the power grid is operational, I note. But I suppose it would have to be; the mechs needed the power, but since they saw in the infrared they could give a shit if the lights functioned.
Massive buildings line the streets, skeletons of smashed glass so tightly packed they formed a solid wall of concrete and steel; so eerily quiet and empty; only the occasional pocket of light on their stout, dark surface.
I’m able to put a name to several of the buildings. One in particular catches my eye; over forty stories of broken windows and rusted steel, its scorched black pinnacle disappearing in the veil. It’s the Cerulean Tower, the area’s largest structure at the dawn of the 21st century — now nothing compared to the goliaths rising alongside it.
The bi-metal construction of the New Age took engineering to new, near limitless heights, giving birth to the pillars of the new world; the support structure for the world beyond the veil; the sun-drenched land of the mechs and their high born human servant slaves. If my memory is accurate (which seemed fucking doubtful at the moment), there are forty pillars in Tokyo, the largest being the Mkaku Pillar; a structure so enormous they had to dismantle four city blocks to make room for its base.
The pillars were the foundation for a web of lightweight poly-fiber bridges high above the veil; an entire goddamn city resting in the Tokyo skyline. They call it the ‘the sky bridge’, Sukaiburijji. One of the few places left on earth where the Nexus can feed freely of the energized rays of the sun.
It is still hard for me to believe this is all we have left; the world’s final bastion of civilization condensed into a small chain of islands in the Pacific. What doesn’t surprise me is that they made it; that Japan managed to stay neutral and sheltered from the horrors of the Crusade while the rest of the world tore itself apart. Sure, the people have always been smart and tenacious, but they also had all the right advantages at just the right time.
History proved how Japan’s rocky shorelines and ocean barriers turned the island nation into a meat grinder for any invading country, like island hopping through hell. The Americans gave it a shot in the second war, but even that arrogant superpower eventually said, ‘fuck it’, and decided it was far easier just to bomb the shit out of them.
The A-bombs were a low blow — straight to Japan’s nut-sack. It left them sterilized, if not castrated. But, little did they know it at the time, by signing article 9 and forever renouncing war they secured their future. Afterwards, the other nations of the world simply didn’t see them as a threat — the blind fools.
Not that Japan would have given a shit about their war anyway, for on the surface, the Crusade was a holy war, and for a nation of shintoists, the Neo Messiah was a hard sell. They followed no specific god, or book of holy law, but instead revered a multitude of kami spirits that they believe inhabited the world around them. Shinto was a religion so deeply grounded in history and ritual, with so many damn spirits involved, that it only made sense to someone born to it. No doubt our one god seemed as absurd to them, if not more so; the supposed savior whose name we praised while worshipping with violence and bloodshed.
That’s exactly what we did, slaughter each other in the name of our gods. As we did so, Japan sat back and watched. Honor bound to article 9, they weren’t allowed to fight, so wisely, they focused their efforts on strengthening their defenses and advancing their technology. Hand in hand they grew. The greater their tech, the stronger their defenses. Then, comfy and safe within their island fortress, they sold their technologies to the highest bidder, thus creating a place for themselves in the world that made them not only invincible, but indispensable.
It was around that time that Japan’s miracle occurred; the inevitable climax of technological invention. The AI was born. The Nexus. It was not only hailed as a scientific breakthrough, but a spiritual one as well, for to Japan, they had given life and to the inanimate, unlocking the kami spirit within. They worshipped their sentient mechs as if they were the very incarnation of their ancient Shinto gods.
As the sky around them turned to ash and fire, Japan watched it burn. When the earth settled into embers, their iron army was the last force standing, their island chain, the last stretch of habitable earth.
But that wasn’t to say Japan hadn’t seen their share of catastrophe in the past. Hell, maybe they were better off because of it; a hundred years of nuclear disaster had groomed them into hardened survivors.
They knew what was coming, and they knew enough to stay the fuck away from it.
Hiroshima, Nagasaki, those were Japan’s first taste. Two cities vaporized in an instant. In their aftermath, a pair of open wounds on the face of earth; wounds that would never heal, but instead fester and spread like a raging herpes strain. All those who lived at the time knew that once they were infected, there was no cure for that shit. But did they lock their dicks up? Hell no. They jacked em up on viagra and kept on banging away.
Wasn’t long before the entire world was fucked, and only a matter of time before the boils and blisters erupted everywhere . . .
You had to hand it to them — to all of history’s victors — as long as you win the war, you can cook the books however you like. Hell, Hitler’s book of praises would have made War and Peace look like a pamphlet had that evil prick come out ahead.
Undoubtedly, the A-bombs were hell on earth. But as bad as they were, they were nothing to the total shit-show of Fukushima. As if an earthquake and tsunami weren’t bad enough, the Fukushima meltdown took natural disaster to a level the earth had never known. Years of pumping and dumping; seawater pumped in to cool the damaged reactors then dumped right back out as toxic waste. They created so much of the damn stuff they made a mountain, a mountain of massive, piss-filled tanks — and they couldn’t do a fucking thing with them, other than keep on stackin em, high as the sky. And all the while, the reactors continued to leak into the groundwater, which in turn leaked into the ocean. It took a while for the full weight of that to sink in. Sure, a lot of shit in the ocean died from the radioactivity, but some things didn’t . . . some things adapted, changed. Nightmare creatures started washing up on shore — shit straight from a monster movie. But it was the things we couldn’t see that scared us the most; the missing ships, and the demons from the deep sea.
Fucking Fuckushima . . .
Try as they may, they couldn’t fix the bitch. Nor was the earth done toying with it. Again and again it rumbled . . . and after they lost the fourth reactor is was meltdown city. Northern Honshu was abandoned in a hurry. Those not fast enough to leave died from radiation hot enough to melt your face.
Nearly fifty million displaced or dead.
Eventually people came back — we didn’t have a choice. Years later, refugees from around the world were allowed into Japan, but confined to the yet heavily radiated Fukushima Dead Zone. Believe it or not, the rest of the world was even worse. Hell, after the Great Crusade we were actually happy to be there . . . until they penned us in. They walled off the Dead Zone and left us to fend for ourselves. Half of us were dead in a month, while those who yet lived were half-dead. We were left to starve, to scour the land for any contaminated crumb we could find. We turned on each other, the only food source we had left. Cannibalism became the norm, kill or be killed, the True Lord’s way.
But the cancer was eating us faster than we could eat each other.
The first time the mechs came we were too weak to fight back . . . Fukushima Dead Zone became a bloodletting.
Those who survived tried to put up a resistance, to launch an offensive against the heart of the mechs — to topple the pillars of heaven and send their sky bridge crashing to the earth.
That’s when they got me . . . I was about to blow their entire world to hell when they started filling me with holes.
How long has it been? I wonder as I lock my gaze on the distant black Mkaku Pillar, following the shaft as it penetrates the veil.
Somewhere up there is Gregois’ ship, his floating experiment lab. He’s wrong if he thinks I’m gonna wait here for him, growing weak so he can scoop me up and have his way with me like some hyper-crack addicted whore. I’ll get back there — wherever there is — I’ll find my way back and send their entire station crashing to the earth. Maybe even take the pillars down with it.
We’ll see how immortal Elden Simmons is then.
I imagine that cocksure smile erased from his face as he plummets to his death, but before the ship hits the earth, my pleasant daydream is disrupted. My senses dulled by my reverie, I allowed an entity to enter my personal space — far too close for comfort. I sense something besides me, a beating heart. I turn from the pillar to find a mangy mound of black fur no taller than my knees creeping from the shadows. He bares his teeth as he nears, issuing me a throaty growl. It’s all for show. He fears me, I can sense it. But like me, his hunger drives him on, onto the pile of blood and guts at my feet. Still eyeing me, he stops and begins lapping up my splattered entrails off the street. I was about to pounce on it, to see if it could satiate my hunger in even the slightest way, but then a voice calls out, “Are you ok, mister?”
The hunger nearly reacts for me, I spin in the speaker’s direction preparing to launch. Somehow I’m able to curb my bloodlust, maybe it’s the sight of him, a boy no older than ten, his body a mix of mechanical scraps and ruined flesh. A bent metal bar has replaced his right arm, bolted to his body and ending in a rusted, hydraulic pincer. His face looks like it was shoved into a microwave and set to high; so blistered by radiation his eyes have boiled in his head, while the soft tissue of his lips have fallen smooth off of his face, leaving him an unnerving and perpetual toothy grin. A single red, cybernetic eye glows in place of his left eye.
I can’t help but feel bad for the little bastard. Obviously someone had tried to help him at one point, but whoever it was may have been a fine auto mechanic but they were shit for a doctor. Even worse, they stopped helping him. It was obvious the boy was outgrowing his cybernetic parts as he limped forward on his short, metal stump of a leg.
“Shit, kid,” I softly reply. “I’m probably a hell of a lot better off than you.”
He lurches back, wrapping himself tightly in his soiled hoodie. Possibly I’ve offended him, or maybe he’s just ashamed of what he’s become — either way, it was a dick move on my part. God knows my body is ruined in ways this kid could never dream of, nor will he live long enough to comprehend the shame I feel.
No, despite his disfigurement, this kid’s far better off than me.
“Sorry, kid. I’m just hungry is all. I can be a real beast when I haven’t eaten.”
It was honest enough on my part, just enough. The reality is that I’m dying to wring every drop of blood I can from what meager flesh he has left.
My words seem to set things right; he creeps back towards me, pulling the hood back from his face.
As I’m patting myself on the back for my resolve, I wonder if maybe I’m not that strong at all, and maybe I’m not eating him because there’s nothing there to begin with. Even his heart is automated; instead of a steady thump in his chest I hear a faint, constant whirring.
I’m definitely not going to admit I have a soft spot for the little scrub. Hell no, I’ve damn sure killed cuter kids in the Crusade and didn’t so much as blink. Why the fuck should I care about this little guy?
Fuck it! I don’t care how much blood he has . . .
“I’m starving . . .”
I slowly approach him — no need to hurry, he sure as hell ain’t running away.
I’m nearly upon him when he reaches into a pocket and pulls something out . . . he hands it to me.
I stop dead in my tracks.
It’s a mushy ball of rotten rice — at least that’s what I thought it was. Once the rice starts squirming, I realize there is far more maggots in that ball than rice.
Even if I didn’t solely crave blood, I wouldn’t be hungry enough to eat that nasty ball of shit. Maybe it’s the sight of his maggot ball, but for some reason, I’m no longer hungry enough to eat him either.
“No thanks, kid. You keep it,” I reply, still trying my best not to be an asshole. And since I’m not killing him, kindness could work in my favor.
“You alone out here, little guy? Where’s mommy and daddy?” Maybe they would be a decent snack . . .
I can sense there’s other heartbeats out there, but not many, and they’re buried deep in the shadows.
“No, haha, no, chichi . . .”
He looked as if he was about to cry, but no tears came from his single robotic eye.
I should have figured, I knew an orphan when I saw one. Hell, I used to be this kid . . . Though not as fucked physically. God no, the world may have been against me since birth, but one thing I always had going for me was my panty-dropping physique. Which, it suddenly occurred to me, this little scrapper was getting an unhealthy eye-full of.
I cover up my junk with my hands — and yes, it takes both of them.
“Don’t suppose I could borrow your sweater?” I ask, nodding in his direction.
Timidly, he draws near. It’s a struggle for him to work his mechanical arm through the sleeve, but he manages to get the hoodie off and hands it to me.
“Thanks,” I lie.
After getting a whiff of the thing I’m not thankful at all for it. My skin crawls as I wrap the filthy garment around my waist.
Once I’m more modestly garbed I continue my query, “What’s your name, kid?” I ask, hoping to get on a first name basis with the boy. Maybe if he doesn’t think I’m a total psychopath I can get him to tell me what the hell happened to Tokyo.
“I am Ichirou. My dog, he is Fuku,” the boy replied, apparently unfazed by my appearance and the fact I’m standing in a mangled pile of viscera.
Haha and Chichi must have done a shit job teaching him about ‘stranger danger’, either that, or he had seen far worse in his young life.
“Okay, Ichirou . . . So, where the fuck is everyone?”
As much as I’d like to hear the whole sob story of Ichirou’s short, anguished life, I have to get on with it. The fact of the matter is that his stay of execution is a temporary one. With every passing second the hunger grows, and Ichirou’s chances of walking (limping) away from this encounter diminish.
“Hiding from the Titans, sir,” he replies, a quizzical look on his face as if he is talking to and idiot — which he very well may be. “To stay underground is safe . . . is small.”
I wasn’t sure what any of that meant, but I knew Shibuya had a vast subway system (that’s how we infiltrated the place) and it would make it the most likely place to hide from a mech invasion.
“What about you, then? Why aren’t you and Fuckyou down there?” “Too small . . .” he replied.
Again with the small, I’m beginning to wonder if something maybe lost in translation.
“Their eyes are everywhere, but they can’t see me,” Ichirou continues, perhaps sensing my confusion.
“Not enough heat,” he replies, pointing to the metal plate crudely fastened to his chest.
It made sense, the mechs commonly hunted in infrared. They didn’t care about pets, and probably didn’t know what the hell to make of the boy, other than he was obviously no threat.
I am about to pry further when a flash of lightning illuminates the horizon; followed by a boom so loud it shakes my balls.
“Raiden . . .” the boy whispers, scampering back into the shadows.
Raiden . . . ?
“You have to be fucking kidding me.”
The name was one of the few of the Shinto gods I recognized, the thunder god Raiden. Had the Nexus actually gone that far . . . to physically transform itself into the kami? Maybe I wasn’t the only one evolving, apparently so too were the mechs — and the Nexus itself for that matter.
“He hunts. Fuku, come!” the boy shouts to his dog from the shadows.
The beast ignores him, ravenously gnawing on a bone — my bone, a cracked piece of my femur.
“Hey, Fuckyou. Drop it,” I order the beast in the most authoritative tone I can muster.
He doesn’t budge, so I move to wrestle it away. I reach down, but I’m stopped by the nastiest growl I’ve ever heard. His teeth flash white beneath his quivering lip. There’s no fear in the dog now. He looks like he could very well take my hand along with the bone he already has.
As for the boy, I try to find him down the alleyway but the vagabond has disappeared. I can’t even smell the stinker anymore, nor hear the electric buzz of his heart.
Little fucker’s faster than I thought.
I debate tracking him, but yet again the alley lights up in an electric flare. The ground starts shaking, sending a rain of broken glass falling from the buildings above.
“Fucking Raiden,” I growl, shaking my head.
I’m really not in the mood for his shit, not now. Nor, judging from his light show, am I strong enough to face him. My first priority is my prey, after that, I could care less what poor soul gets in my way.
I decide to flee — a very uncharacteristic move on my part. I enhance my speed, putting as much distance between me and the strange lighting mech as possible. I still have a mental map of the tokyo underground and quickly find an entrance to the Chiyoda Line, near Yoyogi Park. A line of lifeless cherry trees leads the way; their dead branches reach out to me like skeletal fingers as I dash past them.
I come to the entrance; cracked, blood-caked stairs take me down, as if I’m entering the gate of hell.
I pause as soon as I enter, the sound of beating hearts fill the station.
They have me surrounded, the guardians of the underworld. I’m an intruder in their realm.
“I’m not looking for trouble,” I snarl to the shadows.
Not here anyways.
“I don’t give a fuck what you’re looking for,” someone rudely replies, his voice so worn it sounded like a whisper. “Whatever it is, you’ve come to the wrong place to find it.”
They step out of the darkness, into the flickering conduit lights running down the center of the platform. Over a dozen figures appear, and I know there’s well over twice that still hiding nearby. They’re a mix of bio and cybernetically enhanced thugs; a bunch of Frankenstein looking mother-fuckers; their cybernetic mods only slightly better than the boy, Ichirou’s. They’re either street-level soldiers or criminal gangsters — maybe one in the same in this world.
Also, there’s even a couple mechs in the group; newer models, plaz steel-forged humanoid forms; heavily dented and blast-burned plating, their weapon canisters all but empty. Initially I assumed they were remote operated mechs or least bio-programed with limited function. But after seeing how their eyes burn as they track me I can tell they are clearly AI.
Despite their hostility, I don’t judge the humans to be much of a threat. Their weaponry is rudimentary, projectile weapons from the early turn of the millennium; or in some cases, handheld blades of sharpened scrap metal.
The largest of them, presumably their leader, steps closer. He’s an old war dog like me. Tumorous growths speckle his neck and smooth-shaven head; his skin is like dried out redleather. I have to admit, he’s fit as hell for an old man; his broad shoulders and muscular, veinfilled arms belie his age.
His muscles aren’t the only things bulging beneath his buttonless, blue trench coat. There’s a metal gleam at his left breast where I can see that a plaz-steel plate had been surgically fastened to his skin, to shield his heart. Similar unusual bulges could be seen around all of his vital areas.
What impressed me most about the man was the magnificent, silvery beard flowing down to his chest,
Pointing a spear-like metal rod at my heart, he steps to me. He stands a couple inches taller than me, and stares me down with his hard eyes — cold blue pools . . . a look I’ve seen many times.
“Nice beard,” I remark, hoping to break the ice in his eyes. “How long’s it take to grow something like that?”
I have to stop dying if I’m going to have any chance of growing my own.
Somehow, my compliment has the opposite effect. I can see it in his eyes . . . see it in the muscles twitching in his arms.
He’s gonna go for it.
I swear he’s on the verge of impaling me when suddenly he lowers the weapon.
As much as they can, his leathery features soften.
“Don’t I know you?” he asks in that raspy voice.
I take a quick scroll through my memories, but that beard and burnt face aren’t ringing any bells.
“Believe me, I’m no one you want to know.”
“That’s him . . .” someone in the crowd murmurs.
“Yeah, I know you . . .” he continues. “I’d remember that face anywhere.” He circles me, studying me with his blue eyes.
“The Butcher . . .” he murmurs. “You look pretty damn good for a dead man. In fact, after all this time, you look exactly the same.”
Once more the spear is trained to my heart.
“Who, or what, the fuck are you?”
“Listen, buddy. I don’t have time for a trip down memory lane. Like I said, I don’t want any trouble. I’m going through the station . . . Whether or not I ram that pipe up your poop-shoot on my way out, that’s up to you.”
I return his cold stare with my icy own.
“Same old Shepard,” he says, a grin splitting his raw-hide face. “You always were an asshole.”
I’m desperately trying to put a name to that face when I hear the powder blow and the next thing I know my intestines are spilling through the suddenly enlarged hole in my ass.
My body hurt before, but that really stings.
The leader turns, shouts, “Hold your fire!”, but the fucker that shot me keeps it going, blowing holes in my chest and head. The other soldiers cry out in confusion, rage and revulsion, but luckily it isn’t directed towards me — well, at least not the rage. It appears the asshole took it upon himself to take me out.
I turn to him, a pallid, zombie looking prick. He’s eyeing his gun as if it betrayed him, no doubt wondering how the fuck I’m still standing with half my head blown off and my guts leaking out my ass.
That’s it, no more Mr. nice guy, I’m done fucking around.
I stare him down with my remaining eye.
I see it in his pasty, white-ass face; he knows he fucked up.
I give free reign to the hunger.
Unfortunately, those nearest to me are the first to suffer my wrath. The leader stands in my way shouting, “Wait, Shepard. What the fuck . . . ?”
I bury my fist in his face. Moments before his head explodes I recognize him. He was a young man then. A fearsome enemy on the fields of Dabiq. Later on in Fukushima, an ally . . . one might even say friend.
Scotty Ray . . .
Too late now to reminisce.
All that’s left of Scotty Ray is his brains on my fist.
Meanwhile, the bullets keep coming, but I’m coming now too. I crush one of the mechs like a tin can then I rip off its arm and use it to beat my way through the crowd. Bodies and blood start flying. I’m carving a mighty fine path through the crowd when I notice my prey has given up on killing me. It took him awhile, but he has finally wised up and turns to flee.
Hell no . . .
I’m on him in an instant. I stand before him in all my macabre immortality. I let him take it all in before I take him; my body cavity closing in, my brains regenerating. I even let him have another shot at the title. In a last ditch effort he raises the gun to my head. I’m smiling as the bullet pierces my skull.
The world goes black. The thunderclap explodes in my mind. No sooner has the bullet blown through the back of my head than I regain focus; I see the pale man cowering before me. He raises the gun again, this time I take his wrist and squeeze.
The gun drops as his bones go pop!
The bones may as well have been putty for all the resistance they offered me.
He’s screaming, begging for mercy all the while. There’s even a sizable puddle of piss growing at his feet.
Meanwhile, his allies have had enough, they’re picking up the pieces of what’s left of their friends and backing away. Obviously they’ve decided that saving this asshole isn’t worth their lives.
As my skull fuses back together, I go for the jugular, clamping down on his throat. The initial spray covers my face, but then I latch on, sucking all that sweet nectar directly down my throat.
The shit isn’t bad, but it isn’t what I need. My healing accelerates as I drink it down, but I know it will never be enough to hold the madness at bay.
I chomp down hard, so hard I chip a tooth.
There’s something other than bone in this dude’s neck.
Is that what I think it is?
Like the boy said, “The eyes are everywhere”, the eyes of the mechs.
I pause my feast, the shit wasn’t doing it for me anyway. I put my fingers beneath his flesh, at the base of his skull, and pull out the thin metal disk.
I’ve seen this before — an implant, a link to the Nexus. Whatever he saw so too did the Nexus.
They tried to tag us with them in the early days of the Fukushima Dead Zone. I refused outright, others lacked the foresight and paid dearly for it. It didn’t take the rest of us long to see that the disks weren’t just a way to track us, but to control us.
That’s why he went at me . . . he was a fucking mech slave. He was probably spying on my boy Scotty Ray the entire time. When he saw me, saw that I was still alive he blew his shit, and his cover, in order to take me out.
Now the mechs knew I was alive, and not easily killed. They would be sending more to stop me, much more . . .
For now, the blood feast has at least stilled the beast in me. I have sense enough to know I need to hightail it the hell out of there . . . and that I’m in desperate need of proper clothing.
Fortunately, I share a similar build to the guy I just killed, so I take his shit. I don’t mind the blood on it — I drank most of it anyway — but the piss-pants take some grimacing to get on. I also take his gun, a serious hand-cannon that sure as hell packed a kick when it blew me open. As I throw on his worn leather vest, I hear a jingle in the pocket and reach down to run my fingers through a handful of brass. Lastly, and oh so lovingly, I take the knife around his waist; a wicked, serrated bitch of a blade.
I pause for a moment to admire it; the creamy, bone handle sandwiching a solid forged steel tang. I wrap my hand around the handle; such a nice fit, such perfect balance.
I always preferred knives over guns; I felt a victim deserved it, to look his killer in the eyes as he robbed him of life. I don’t know, just something comforting about having your face be the last earthly thing they see.
I notice the previous owner didn’t tend the edge; it’s dull, and orange blotches of rust are starting to take shape. But quality steel like this could always be sharpened, could always be cleaned — as long as one cared for it.
I would care for it in ways the pasty slave never dreamed. Hell yes, from the moment I first set eyes upon it, I could tell this would be a love story fit for the ages.
No sooner had I fastened his belt and holstered his gun than the thunder is back. Right above our heads. Like before, it sets my balls quivering. The remaining guardians scatter as the station shakes. I should have followed them, but instead I’m standing there, admiring the blade and waiting for my body to heal.
As I wait, I crush the metal disk in my hand.
There’s another crack of thunder and the ceiling caves in. I’m blinded as a flood of rubble and dust fills the station. Something heavy hits my head, hard enough that it reopens my skull and knocks me to the ground. Blood and stars fill my vision then I’m hit again, this time much harder.
The air leaves my lungs (or do my lungs leave my body?) as I’m crushed beneath a slab of concrete as large as a house. With blood and organs spewing from my every orifice, I summon the beast within. It rages to break free, tapping into reserves of energy and fury no sane mind could comprehend. But for all its efforts, the chunk of concrete has managed to accomplish something I have not — to contain the beast.
A part of me wonders if this is how it ends; squashed, unable to heal . . . yet unable to die, buried alive for all time.
I envision the passing of millennia trapped in this state; civilizations growing and falling above me, further burying me beneath their toppled cities as my hunger continues to grow all the while, driving me mad.
Rage turns to fear and my body replies in kind. Another instinct takes over, one more primal and ancient than the beast. To hunt, to kill and to feast — this was the essence of survival. But to live, to be free this was the essence of life — the purest form of existence.
I’m dying, but guided by that pure instinct, my body fights on. With every cell that dies, a new cell is born, stronger, more adaptive than the one before. The cycle continues, mutating my body by the minute. Generations of cells come and go, but eventually my muscles and bones begin to withstand the pressure of the concrete crushing against them. Later still, I’m able to lift the slab.
With an animalistic cry I heave it aside.
It shakes the earth as it falls, sending dust plumes swirling through the air.
I’m free . . . but fuck I’m exhausted. God knows how many times I had to die and be reborn to get to this point.
I’m lying there, still spouting blood when the dust finally settles.
The first thing I see is the light; streams of energy crackling as they arc through the air. Then I see him, the human figure at their center, Raiden god of fucking thunder. He hovers mid-air above me; arms out, perpendicular to his body like he’s Christ on the cross. He’s over seven feet tall; a body of sleek metal, eyes of blinding white light. His head is fashioned into the helm of an ancient samurai, like Darth Vader with horns.
“What are you?” he demands in a booming electronic voice.
Seems like that’s what everyone wants to know, myself included. But now I think I have an answer, something maybe this thing can appreciate.
“I’m the god of death,” I softly reply, forcing my broken body to its feet. “Let me guess,” I continue. “You must be the thunder god.”
There’s a massive burst of lighting the exact moment I pronounce his name.
“I am the air that fills your lungs,” he boasts. “The light by which you see, the energy eternal upon which . . .”
I’ve heard enough. Sounded like a crock of shit to me anyway. While the wind god is busy blowing hot air I unholster that hand cannon and empty the cylinder in his direction.
There’s not enough kick to penetrate his metal exterior, but it throws him back — and shuts him the fuck up.
It’s clear there won’t be enough time to reload, not that I would waste the ammo even if I could. And as much as I’m dying to use the knife, I know it wasn’t meant for the mech.
None of that matters anyhow, my cells are stronger than steel now. I’m just fine going hand to hand.
Ok, let’s see what this fucker’s got . . .
I charge him, barreling right through the center of a lightning storm. The streaks of energy explode against me, shredding my new-found flesh. As he incinerates my body, my mind slips away . . . back to the primordial. Once again I start evolving, and soon after the lightning stops burning.
By the time I make it to him it’s just tickling me as it crawls along my skin. I’m snarling like a wild animal as I face him.
“Who are you?” he repeats, a hint of fear in his robotic voice.
“I told you,” I growl back. “I’m the fucking god of death!”
With that I leap at him, but before I can crush the artificial life from his metal body there’s a burst of light and he’s gone.
I’m scowling remorsefully as the electric flares fade away. Once they’re extinguished, there’s no sign of him, as if he vanished with the wind, or a lightning blast.
Disappointed and still itching for a fight, I stalk back through the station; I need to vent my rage, to viciously rip the life from something, anything. I set my sights on hunting. The beast is back, now it’s his turn at the wheel. I smell blood everywhere but most of it is mine or too stale to be of any value. Then I catch a familiar scent, there’s no stopping me this time, he had his chance to leave.
He should never have come back.
I dig my way through a pile of rubble to reach him. As if made of cardboard, I lift a large chunk of cement, and find the kid, Ichirou . . .
He looks happy, then again because he had no lips he always looked happy.
I can’t do it, there is no point to it anyway, Ichirou is gone . . . this is just a bloody heap of broken bones and bent metal.
I let the stone back down.
There’s nothing there for me, nothing at all . . .
Rage fills my veins, I’m a slave to the hunger now . . . pure beast. All that’s left for me now is my prey, and my hunger.
It’s time . . . time for the hunt to begin.
Empowered as I am, there’s no way my prey can escape.
Easily I pick up the scent and bound off, running towards it on all fours like the beast I’ve become.
I’m so consumed, I don’t even notice that I’m not the only one, not the only beast in this hunt.
I’m being followed, by a mangy ball of black fur . . .
Even if I did see him, I wouldn’t have known, Fuckyou wasn’t following me. The dog was tracking the scent . . . the scent of my prey.